It happened today - June 6, 2015

Obviously this is the anniversary of D-Day, one of the few occasions in our history that is generally remembered in an appropriate way and on an appropriate scale. Though I will mention the idea of my late friend Reg Dixon, a veteran of that operation as Intelligence Officer of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, that someday someone should give a proper write-up of the extraordinary logistical efforts that made the invasion possible.

Instead I want to mention a few other developments that also happened on June 6; the calendar becoming at a certain historical point rather crowded. For instance, on June 6 1833 Andrew Jackson became the first American president to ride the “Iron Horse” as steam locomotives were then known. And railroads certainly produced dramatic changes in every aspect of life including, naturally, warfare, contributing mightily to the logistical might behind the Union victory in the U.S. Civil War and the mass mobilization of men and materiel that helped drive the slaughter of World War I.

June 6 is also the anniversary, exactly a century later, of the opening of the first drive-in movie theatre, predictably in the U.S., the first nation to enter the automobile age. (By the time the Great Depression hit, in 1930, there were 23 million cars on the road in the U.S., prompting Will Rogers’ quip that the country “could go to the poor house in an automobile.” And cars clearly had a huge impact on American life, helping abolish the backbreaking labour and social isolation of much of rural life but also such community institutions as the one-room schoolhouse. Once social planners could ship the youthful human units to scientific processing centres they were well-placed to supplant old-fashioned parents as the moulders of minds.

The car also did much to undermine the traditional family, giving young people unprecedented freedom to “court” away from the watchful eyes of parents and neighbours. And it wasn’t just young people. Motels, Tom Wolfe has suggested in The Right Stuff, did more to promote “what would later be rather primly called ‘the sexual revolution’ because they were all accessible anonymously from the parking lot instead of having to sneak past the “hotel dick” in the lobby… and there were 26,000 of them in the U.S. by 1948. (Kemmon Wilson invented the Holiday Inn partly to offer an alternative to the sleaze of too many motels.)

The drive-in theatre doesn’t really rank high in the list of ways the car changed America. Rather, it reflects the more than slightly unbounded enthusiasm for cars that led people to embrace weird fads as breakthroughs in mankind’s march of evolution. In the end they became a byword for juvenile fun of a generally fairly innocent sort; serious making out in the “rumble seat” required a less crowded venue.

Indeed, the drive-through restaurant was a far more portentous alteration of lifestyles in which the car did not so much satisfy our desires as alter them, in pernicious ways. Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma guy, estimates that 20 percent of American meals are now eaten in the car and I doubt Canada is far behind. Such eating is unhealthy in every imaginable dimension even if not accompanied by a truly awful double feature involving cardboard space ships.

Yes, freedom is worth fighting for as at D-Day. And modern technology is exciting as when you first board that Iron Horse and experience the wonders of the steam age. But a little discernment is still required including about what you eat in the car and what you watch while eating it.